The increasing interest in "warm" aerobic cardioplegia requires a critical reevaluation of the systemic effects of the associated normothermic cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB). As activated neutrophils seem to be essential mediators of the inflammatory response to CPB via the cytotoxicity of the products that are released during their adhesion to endothelial cells, the authors undertook a study of the influence of temperature on the interaction between the neutrophils and the endothelium in 95 patients undergoing warm (31-33.5 degrees C, n = 49) and cold (26-27 degrees C, n = 46) CPB surgery. Blood sampling was performed before, during and after CPB. The following markers of neutrophil-endocardium interaction were analysed: complement activation (C3a), cytokine production (tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukines 1, 6 and 8, and interleukin-1 receptor antagonist); endothelial expression of cytokine-dependent [intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)] and cytokine-independent (P-selectin) adhesion molecules (P-selectin); expression of cytokine molecules on the surface of polynuclear neutrophils (CD11a, CD11b, CD11c); and finally, endothelial adhesion and transendothelial migration of neutrophils (interleukin 8 and elastase). The results showed that, irrespective of temperature, CPB was associated with changes strongly suggestive of phenomena of transendothelial adhesion and migration. Moreover, normothermia increased the intensity of the inflammatory response as shown by increased cytokine production, earlier expression of neutrophil adhesion molecules and increased elastase production.